DOH: Latest dairy discharge was 3.5 million gallons

  • A state Department of Health inspector navigates a gulch in February where wastewater from Big Island Dairy cows polluted the environment. (Hawaii Department of Health/Courtesy photo)

HILO — Another 3.5 million gallons of stormwater mixed with wastewater were discharged from Big Island Dairy between Monday and Wednesday, state Department of Health officials confirmed.

“Of the 3.5 million gallons, they estimate 85-90 percent was stormwater, with the balance being wastewater,” DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo said.

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The dairy notified the DOH on Monday about the discharge, which was a controlled release.

Big Island Dairy owners in November said they would discontinue dairy and milk processing operations at the facility, which has been owned by Steve and Derek Whitesides since 2011 and is located on land leased from the state.

The dairy and the DOH entered into an agreement at the end of March that addressed numerous discharges of wastewater containing manure from the dairy into state waters during the past two years.

According to the timeline outlined in that agreement, free stall pens were supposed to be scraped, washed and flushed throughout March, April and May, after which transfer pipes to the wastewater lagoons were to be flushed with clean water.

“The cleaning required by the (agreement) did not cause the discharge and in fact likely reduced the amount of wastewater generated and subsequently discharged,” Okubo said. “The dairy is ahead of scheduled for the removal of cows and disconnecting of the waste water system.”

Okubo said Big Island Dairy also has conducted the required cleaning and removal activities.

“All timelines are being met,” she said. “There is continued concern that prolonged wet weather will cause additional discharges.”

The agreement also calls for upper and lower wastewater lagoons to be cleared of manure, which is to be agronomically applied to the land.

“Application of the wastewater and manure is only authorized when there are weather conditions that will not cause the manure to run off,” Okubo said. “The dairy is required to hold all wastewater and manure if weather conditions do not allow for safe application.”

Big Island Dairy is required to report when, where and how much wastewater and manure is applied to the land to demonstrate the work is being done in a way that does not lead to discharges into nearby gulches, she explained.

The agreement also stipulates that the dairy is to remove the wastewater lagoons and stabilize and regrade the area if necessary. That work is expected to begin around June or July.

There is, however, a provision that would allow for an exception or waiver to that requirement if another dairy moves in or the state Department of Agriculture, which oversees the land, does not consent to the removal.

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“The Department of Agriculture is aware of the requirements of the (agreement), including the provision for the wastewater lagoons to be removed, unless another owner takes possession of the lease,” Okubo said. “Should a new owner take over the property, the new owner would need to determine what changes are required to ensure the safety of the community and compliance with environmental laws based on their planned activities.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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